Charles A. Cornell writes thrillers with a touch of the macabre and pens a unique form of science fiction blended with fantasy and alternative history known as dieselpunk. His awards include the 2012 Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Thriller for Tiger Paw and another RPLA in 2014 in the science fiction category for his illustrated dieselpunk novel DragonFly. He fuels his creativity from inside the chaos of everyday life and you can follow his musings at www.CharlesACornell.com.
He's a proud member of the Florida Writers Association and the Alvarium Experiment. ‘Alvarium’ is Latin for beehive. The Alvarium Experiment is a unique collaboration of twelve authors reinventing the short fiction experience. Their first short fiction collection is The Prometheus Saga.
Interview with Charles
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
Since I can ever remember, I have had this duality about my interests and my artistic and scientific sides have had this quiet running battle for decades. When I was younger I showed a talent for creative writing but my interest in chemistry moved me towards a degree in metallurgy. After fifteen years pursuing a technical career path in the automotive industry, I left technology behind in favor of general management and completed an MBA. It was during my MBA classes - where I had to write essay style papers for nearly every class - that I re-discovered the creative writing talent that had its roots in my youth. Now I am able to combine all of my experiences and place them on ‘paper’.
I started writing novels seriously over ten years ago. But during that span of time, I had a three year hiatus when I didn’t write at all. During two of those years, I managed a rock band in my spare time. Boy, was that fun! When the band broke up, I started writing again. Writing is a craft and every time you write, you learn something new about your voice and improve your technique. My first attempt at writing a novel was a spy thriller. It wasn’t a bad first effort but wasn’t up to par commercially based on the feedback from agents. After many rejections, I decided to start again with something different by leveraging my knowledge of business and the stock market. Writing Tiger Paw was a long journey that started in 2005 with an agent in New York who loved it but didn't want to represent thrillers (long story). The manuscript sat for four years while I experimented with writing in other genres. In 2010 I decided to update Tiger Paw to the events of the financial crisis of 2008. By 2011 it was ready to be professionally edited. I self-published it in 2012 and Tiger Paw was nominated by the Kindle Book Review as one of their best thrillers of that year and won the Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Thriller from the Florida Writers Association, most of whom are traditionally published authors.
What inspires you to write?
I’m a Leo and that apparently makes me an optimist. I see the ‘half full’ side of life and have great faith in the power of the ordinary man to do extraordinary things. On the other hand, I believe in the corruption of absolute power and the need to rein in the excesses of greed and the dominance of the elite. So my work will always have an element of the ‘little guy’ fighting to maintain liberty in the face of adversity. I see myself as that archetype in my own life and experiences.
I’m a bigger lover of movies. I watch movies more than I read books. I get a lot of inspiration from them. I like thrillers, historical and political dramas, and big action science fiction movies. I make sure I watch all the Oscar nominated movies so I can see the best acting performances and how characters are developed on the screen. I’m a sucker for a great script and plot and I’m very critical when a movie puts special effects ahead of story.
How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
Inspiration always starts with a ‘what if’ question. For Tiger Paw, it was… ‘What if a ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ defrauded the wrong investors? People who could really fight back?’ Tiger Paw is a tale of good triumphing over evil but for much of the book, it’s also a story of evil people taking revenge on other evil people:
As a serial killer wreaks havoc on Wall Street, dismantling a corrupt financier's empire one body at a time, FBI profiler Scott Forrester uncovers the deadly secret of a demon-worshipping Hindu cult that is determined to change the very fabric of society. Firmly in their assassin's crosshairs, Scott Forrester is forced underground to stop the killing spree. But will he survive the deal he must make with the Devil to thwart their satanic plan?
Woven into the intrigue and suspense are elements of the macabre and the occult. Religions around the world differ in scripture and practice but one thing they have in common is a belief in the Devil. After much research into the demons or asuras in Hinduism and Indian folklore, I created a fictional Devil, the Demon-Goddess Dvaipa. Hindus will know that the references to Dvaipa and the Temple of Dvaipa in Tiger Paw are pure fiction. I extrapolated from Hinduism’s actual deity, Kali, Goddess of Destruction to create her evil bastard child, Dvaipa, a deity worshipped by a cult whose members are wealthy and powerful.
Tell us about your writing process.
I'm an outliner or plotter. I need to know my story's ending ahead of time. This is especially important when writing a mystery or thriller in order to seed clues into the narrative. I outline using old fashioned paper index cards laid on a big table so I can glance at the whole structure at once. The process is usually accompanied by a glass of wine. Once the forty chapters or so are roughed with a sentence or two on each card that captures the scene, I transfer them to my iPad into a writing app called Storyist. There I can change their order and rearrange to my heart's content. I write the draft on the iPad in Storyist and export it to Word on my desktop. I use the iPad first because I can quickly move from the draft to the internet and back to do research. When I think I've done enough self-editing, I send that out to professional editors, do their recommended revisions when the manuscript comes back, and then self-publish.
What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
A central plot point in Tiger Paw involves a painting, 'The Revenge of Dvaipa' which is on display in Washington DC. Criminal psychologist and cult expert, Dr.Rajeev Chandra takes the main protagonist, FBI profiler Scott Forrester and his partner Agent Trish van Cleyburn to the art gallery to teach them about Hinduism. It's not done as a lecture but as a psychological game of 'cat-and-mouse' between the venerable old scholar and his less worldly protégés. As he helps them interpret classic Indian art, they begin to learn about the deeper motivations behind the serial killer they are hunting. At the end of the scene, they arrive at the gallery with the 'The Revenge of Dvaipa' and major clues are provided to explain what has, to that point in the novel, been a series of bizarre and inexplicable killings. Here is an excerpt when they first see this painting:
The final gallery was bathed in a pale semi-darkness; its cavernous gray walls like the interior of a tomb. Three small spotlights tried in vain to fully illuminate a single artwork that rose twenty feet from floor to ceiling, and spanned thirty feet across. The colossal silk canvas towered over the three solitary figures standing in silence, transfixed by its size and presence. The painting was undeniably the showpiece of the Freer Gallery’s exhibition of Indian art, a religious icon never before seen outside of India. In the dim lighting, the enormous canvas appeared three dimensional, suspended in air. It generated an ethereal energy, a mix of compulsion and foreboding, beckoning at first to draw them closer, then warning them to approach no further.
Tiger Paw is meant to have layers, each with a different value. I hope there is a ‘layer of entertainment’ – the chills and thrills – that would make a reader feel satisfied that the ‘ride’ was worth the time they invested. Next is a ‘layer of information’ – a feeling that the reader has learned something after reading Tiger Paw that they hadn’t known before. For westerners, it is about Hinduism and India. It may be about the psychology of serial killers or the threat of cults. Or about a particular place, whether it’s the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Asian Art, the high country of Wyoming or the dunes of Amelia Island, Florida. Something that might inspire a reader to find out more about a particular subject or want to visit a place for themselves. And finally there is the deeper layer – making the reader think, a place where the reader is left with more questions than answers. Why are people so greedy? How much wealth is really enough? Is it right that the accumulation of money in our society equates to so much power? And most importantly, is there anything we can do to change it?
Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
Every writer needs to feel their characters. All of them, male or female. There is nothing more joyful than experiencing the emotions play out on the page, regardless of the age or gender of the particular character in relation to you. They carry your own hopes and fears, torments and conflicts, and reflect the experiences you’ve had in different interpersonal situations. Where imagination comes to play are the parts where there is danger involved that you have not personally faced. Then you play a ‘what if’ game with yourself. What if I were put in this position? How would I feel? How would I react? Would I survive? Could my character? And how?
What is your most interesting writing quirk?
I like to end my chapters with a cliffhanger. It's like a hook, but at the end of the scene so that it propels the reader into the next chapter with a hunger to find out what happens next. The 'cliffhanger' can be a major character who reveals something with important consequences but with no explanation, or it could be a major plot turning point that results in more drama to come in the chapters that follow.
What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Be patient, be determined and write with diligence. Never stop improving your craft. There’s always something to learn. And if you are hurt by rejection take up something else.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Writing becomes a passion. If you have that passion, then write regardless of whether you make any money doing it. I find as I get older, I write because I have something to say.
Study the craft of writing. It's all about craft. Find a critique circle - not your friends and family - and listen to their unbiased feedback. Ask yourself why someone said what they said about your writing and be determined to improve. Write that first draft, edit it to the point of pushing the ‘publish’ button and then put it on ice for at least three months. Do something else. Start writing something else. When you return to it, you will have a fresh set of eyes and you will see all kinds of ways to improve your original prose.
What authors influenced you as a writer?
When I was young I read a lot of classic science fiction. I read all of the Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘John Carter of Mars’ series, John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, HG Wells and others. But George Orwell’s ‘1984’ stood out for me. It was really a psychological thriller. Orwell’s nightmarish vision was set apart from the classic sc-fi I was reading because his dystopian world had profound political and societal forces acting on his characters not just technological change. I think he set a very high standard for writers in regards to communicating these kinds of ‘big picture’ ideas through the feelings of his characters and the story of their journey. I’ve tried to do some of that in ‘Tiger Paw’, although it’s up to my readers to judge how successful I have been.
What would be the Dream Cast for your book if it was to be turned into a movie?
I have a Pinterest page called 'Tiger Paw Goes to Hollywood' to do just that! Pinterest is a great way to visualize things even before you start writing. Check out my boards at http://pinterest.com/charlesacornell/tiger-paw-goes-to-hollywood/
How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I live in Michigan but want to retire soon and live (and write) full-time in Florida. I love the beaches there and the sea.
Can you share with us something off your bucket list?
I've always wanted to come to India for one of the elephant festivals to see the elephants draped in colorful cloth and paraded through the streets. What a spectacular sight that must be!
What do you have in store next for your readers?
Last year I launched DragonFly, a collision of science fiction and fantasy in the dieselpunk genre. I'm working on its sequel, 'Spies in Manhattan' as well as some short companion fiction to the DragonFly world.
I have a crazy number of projects in the concept and outlining stage. I'm really excited about starting an eight-novel space opera/science fiction series I've begun outlining. That may be the next world I build after the DragonFly books. But I promised my readers I would write the second and third book in my FBI thriller series, Tiger Paw first. I reckon I have at least ten years of writing ahead of me to completely write everything I've imagined and that doesn't count anything else I might dream up in the future.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
I like bulldogs but unfortunately owning one doesn’t fit into my traveling lifestyle at the moment. So I have a low maintenance fat cat instead.
Thank you, Debdatta for the opportunity to share with your readers some insights into my life as an author and introduce them to my thriller Tiger Paw. As a special thank you, Tiger Paw has been discounted to US $0.99 for the next week. I’m also giving away an autographed hardcopy edition of Tiger Paw for a lucky reader in India. Please leave a review for me on Amazon. It would be much appreciated!
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As a serial killer wreaks havoc on Wall Street, dismantling a corrupt financier’s empire one body at a time, FBI profiler Scott Forrester uncovers the deadly secret of a demon-worshipping Hindu cult that is determined to change the very fabric of society. Firmly in their assassin’s crosshairs, Scott Forrester is forced underground to stop the killing spree. But will he survive the deal he must make with the Devil to thwart their satanic plan?
Critics Reviews of Tiger Paw:
"A fast-paced, entertaining thriller. An intriguing story. Well researched. Vivid descriptions. Interesting twists and turns. An excellent debut thriller! - Royal Palm Literary Award Judging Panel, Florida Writers Association
"A standout debut novel recommended for all lovers of thrillers and action books. A great variation to the thriller genre. The author blended a detective storyline with a thread of the esoteric. The ending leaves you guessing. A well thought out story, with lots of action." - Midwest Book Review
Buy the Book:
Tiger Paw is on sale now for $0.99 or 62 rupees for a limited time.